From ‘Neurbrandenburgh in flames’ to ‘Breaking the Waves’

As it’s the weekend let’s hear from our roving arts correspondent:

Descending down through a puffy white sea of cloud to reveal the sparkling waters of the Forth isn’t so far from the sublime that so entranced 19th century artists long before air travel gave us all the means to escape earthly bounds.  There’s a Caspar David Friedrich painting, ‘Neubranding in flames’ (1834), currently showing in Copenhagen’s Carlsberg Gyptotek as part of an exhibition celebrating him and his contemporary, the 19th Century Danish painter, Christian Kobe as well as earlier Danish artists Jens Juel and J.C. Dahl.  the Friedrich looked familiar and I suddenly flashed on those rather jarring inter-titles in Lars Von Trier’s ‘Breaking the waves’ (which in my view captures the presbyterian soul of Scotland better than any film save  the Bill Douglas Trilogy).   The same juxtaposition of naturalism and an almost gaudy, seemingly heavy-handed, symbolism in the over-emphatic rays of sun fanning out from behind the clouds.

Co-incidence perhaps but I suspect more of a direct influence.  But then several of Friedrich’s pictures in turn owe a significant debt to Kobe and in turn to Jens Juel.  Juel’s ‘Landscape with Aurora Borealis’ (c. 1790s) was a clear inspiration for Friedrich’s ‘Wisps of Mist’ (c. 1820) and one could conjecture also influenced ‘Neubranding in Flames’. 

In any event the circuits of influence between an 18th century Danish and a 19th century German painter and a 20th/21st century filmmaker can be traced via these extraordinary paintings.  Both Friedrich’s painting and Von Trier’s film are imbued with the possibility of  redemption even amidst great suffering or destruction. Not that makes me like the intertitles any better but I saw something I couldn’t before and that’s the point of art is it not?

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